Petra, Wadi Rum, And Freedom

Petra, Wadi Rum, And Freedom


Leonard Zwelling

The most famous tourist site in all of Jordan is Petra, a city that still exists to this day, but dates to the Sixth Century B.C. The ruins of Petra served as the backdrop for the final half hour or so of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where Harrison Ford, Sean Connery et al. galloped up the passage way that leads to the “Treasury,” a great, red building carved out of the side of a mountain by the Nabataeans, a group of Arabs who migrated from the area of modern Saudi Arabia and settled here. It is an impressive sight. In fact, it is so beautiful an excursion that we made the mile and half trip down to the ruin both upon arriving at 5 PM and the next morning. Trip one was in the preferred transportation of tourist sites in Jordan, the golf cart. The next morning, we walked down to the “Treasury” with our Jordanian guide and saw the ruin in rising sunlight, and it did indeed look completely different than it had the evening before.

The Petra Museum told as a great deal more about the people who created and then left the city. We had visited Petra on a day trip in 1999 and the site has been considerably built up at its entrance since then. Meanwhile, the youngsters in our entourage, my son Andrew and his wife Danielle, walked down to Petra and around its back at dawn. They then got into Jeeps and rode for 45 minutes into the desert to the site of a mountain monastery that they had to ascend to reach. On the top of this mountain, in the mosque there, lay the final resting place of Aaron, the brother of Moses who, like his brother, did not live to see the Promised Land. The hike and Jeep trip to Aaron’s Tomb is not for senior citizens on so many levels from the sheer volume of walking to the spine-shattering Jeep ride. We had to enjoy this vicariously in iPhone pictures.

Perhaps the most anticipated part of this trip for me has been the visit to the Bubble Hotel at Wadi Rum south of Petra. Wadi Rum is the dry valley near the city of Rum in the Jordanian Desert and is probably most famous for being site that T. E. Lawrence visited after his conquest of Aqaba and is where the desert scenes in Lawrence of Arabia were filmed.

After arriving and checking into our bubble shaped room that gave the hotel the appearance of a base camp on Mars, we boarded a truck and drove into the desert. For those of you have seen Lawrence of Arabia the scenery will bring back memories. For me, it was a place I had wanted to go since I was 14 and took the Long Island Railroad into Manhattan and saw the new film in 1962. It never got out of my blood or my head.

In 1998 I had ridden a camel into the desert in Eilat. Now I was right where the film was shot. The truck stopped and we were at the place where Peter O’ Toole sang “The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo” and heard his voice echoing through the wadi. After 60 years, I sang the song and heard my voice come back to me over red sand. It was a dream come true.

The next day we were slated to cross back into Israel which is no small feat at the southern crossing site. It was easier in the north. We had to roll our bags on the sidewalks through the Jordanian side and its passport control and then onto the Yitzhak Rabin check point on the Israeli side. But we made it through and despite myself I let out a sigh of relief.

Our five-day trip to Jordan was remarkable. We saw important sites described in the Bible and visited places that were out of this world, but I was also out of my comfort zone. For me, that’s all part of international travel—getting out of my comfort zone, but when I saw the tough-looking, tattooed and armed Israeli woman border guard hover over my luggage and had the Israeli TSA ask what my CPAP machine is for, I felt the breeze of freedom wash over me. I was back home in the West after a brief sojourn in the second-and-a-half world in Jordan.

It was a great trip so far, but I was thrilled to be back in Israel.

Dr. Zwelling’s new novel, Conflict of Interest: Money Drives Medicine and People Die is available at:,

on amazon if you search using the title and subtitle 


directly from the publisher Dorrance at:

2 thoughts on “Petra, Wadi Rum, And Freedom”

  1. Your descriptions of Petra and the Wadi Rum are wonderful! They brought back memories of our visit there last year. Like you, I have been entranced by the venues for “Lawrence of Arabia.” Since my father had been an Army Reconnaissance Officer in the deserts of North Africa in WWII, I had been reared with stories and mementoes of the desert, and I remain fascinated by that terrain and the history to the very moment that I now write to you. Thanks for sharing your journey and your reflections.

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